Running can prolong your life, or at least keep death at bay for an average of three more years, according to a new study that examined health and mortality data from 55,000 people. Combine running with other exercise, write the authors, and you reduce mortality (an odd scientific way of saying you prolong life) by 43%. Running alone reduces it by 30%, beating by a mile the usual unhealthy suspects: smokers giving up smoking would reduce mortality by 11%; obese people getting to a healthy weight by 8%.
There is a slight flaw to these comforting – at least to runners – figures, in that “the dose-response relations between running, as well as the change in running behaviours over time and mortality remain uncertain”. Translation: people lie about how much they run. Lead author Dr Duck-chul Lee (who runs twice a week) expects the data to improve now that everyone – including my 77-year-old mother – has a Fitbit or some kind of wrist data recording device. But if having three more years to live in our grim uncertain future isn’t tempting enough, here are 10 other reasons to take up running.
1. Running makes you fitter as well as not dead sooner
You will train your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently, including your heart. Its ability to pump blood around the body, transporting oxygen and removing waste, will improve. Running reduces your chances of getting type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and several cancers.
2. You will be become a better recycler
You never need throw away an old toothbrush again, because it will convert into a device kept in the shower to scrub off mud from places you didn’t know mud could get to.
3. Running is a perfect way to filter out lesser friends
The friends who can’t take your endless running photos on social media will soon drop you, and the ones who remain are the ones who know what PB, a sub-30 and nipple-chafing are and don’t judge you for using those terms in public.
4. You’ll cut down your alcohol spend
You will divert the profligate waste of your disposable income from alcohol and junk food and instead spend it on the latest running shoes (runners never call them “trainers”), capris, skorts, laces, soft flasks, chafing cream, ultra-running vests, backpacks, bumbags and endless other varieties of gear (Last shoe count: 13. Skorts: 3).
5. Running makes you happier
All runners know this, but the “runner’s high” was only satisfactorily proven in the last couple of decades. Run fast or far enough to go from an aerobic to an anaerobic state, and your body releases endorphins, endogenous opiod neuropeptides that are related to opiates. However, German researchers found that endorphins don’t breach the blood-brain barrier, so you may be stimulating an endocannabinoid response in the brain instead. Opiates, weed, whatever: it feels great and has a street value of zero.
6. An excuse to buy nail polish
Women – or anyone with the inclination – can fully justify spending on endless pots of red nail polish to cover the blackened, keratin-thickened things at the end of your feet that used to be toenails.
Stay with me. Finger length in men is supposedly linked to how much testosterone they have been exposed to in the womb. When researchers examined the finishing times and finger lengths of more than 542 runners at the Robin Hood half marathon, they found that men with more “masculine” finger lengths were faster. Conclusion? Quicker endurance runners are probably descended from the best runner hunters of prehistoric times, and have better genes.
8. Combining meditating and running can probably make you happier still
The mechanics of depression are widely studied and debated. But studies have shown that the hippocampus, and its production of new neurons, plays a role: some depressed people have a smaller hippocampus. Exercise can stimulate the production of new neurons, but in mice studies, the new neurons didn’t last. Last year, researchers at Rutgers University had 52 people, 22 with diagnosed depression, do 30 minutes of meditation followed by 30 minutes of treadmill exercise. After eight weeks, 40% of the diagnosed depressives reported that their depression had diminished. Somehow the meditation was embedding the new neurons, and alleviating depression. It’s called MAP (mental and physical training), or sitting and sweating.
9. You will have stronger knees
Really. Not least if you get off the roads and on to the trails and hills, where uneven terrain (and the lack of cement and tarmac) doesn’t just strengthen your joints, but your brain too. Running on a rocky track, for example, requires constant physical and mental dexterity – calculating your footfall, where to put your next step, looking ahead to the next rock or piece of bog to avoid – which is as good as a daily crossword. I have no science to back this up, but Alan Turing could run a marathon in 2:46.03 – not far off Olympic standards in 1949 – so obviously my theory holds true: endurance running makes you smarter.
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